Young Chef by Chris Ford

The Future Is Female and Brown and (Thankfully) Already On Its Way

I work at a City University of New York school, one of a number of large (underfunded) urban institutions that serve around 275,000 students, mainly New York City public high-school graduates. My college in particular draws veterans and in-service personnel (cops, firefighters, guards both national and local), immigrants, and first-generation college students. Despite relatively low-cost tuition, nearly all students need and benefit from some sort of federal and state financial aid. Forty-two percent of our students are Hispanic, giving us the largest Hispanic student population of any four-year college in the Northeast. Nearly 60% of undergraduates and graduate students are female. Only 23% are white.

If you live west of New Jersey, you’ve probably never heard of us, but institutions like ours exist throughout the country — California, Texas, Arizona, Florida.

I walked our main building yesterday, weighed down by thoughts. What would happen to these students in the coming years? Had the arcs of their futures flattened? What good could wait for them in a country that decided to be afraid of them and to select someone who promised, consistently and baldly, to make America great by returning it to the time before they arrived? My son and daughter are multi-racial, their mother an immigrant to the US. What will they think of their country? What will their country think of them? What will they think of themselves?

I kept walking, working the path that leads back to myself. I went up some stairs, weaving through students passing between classes, out into the main atrium. The space was alive with music, laughter, books, talking, eating, thinking. People in a long line at a table to talk to someone about careers in social justice. Flyers everywhere about the FBI coming to campus to recruit. Clubs hustling for new members. A play based upon student stories coming to the theater and then a dance performance after that, free to all. An announcement for a talk by a prominent sociologist on the carceral continuum that begins for so many minorities in their public schools and ends in prison, and how to disrupt it. Monitors lit up with dates for upcoming workshops on writing effective research papers, applying for law school, interviewing well for jobs.

By the time I reached my office, I realized I was out of coffee. I also realized that these students hadn’t lost their arc — they are the inevitable arc of this country, bending up and out beyond what I could see. It’s not a smooth line, but it’s thick and unstoppable in the best way.

I sat down. I went to work.

Essayist, lapsed professional philosopher, associate dean of ice cream. Author of creative nonfiction about work, love, self and other stuff. Welcome, pals.